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Snake Identification

Snake Identification Tips

There are so many different kinds of snakes that snake identification can become challenging if not impossible. That’s why it’s good to know some of the standard snake identification skills that can help you determine if a snake is venomous or non-venomous.

The truth is, many people have an uncontrollable fear of snakes, and sometimes harmless snakes are mistakenly killed just because they may have similar coloring to a poisonous snake. Plus, if you ever are bitten by a snake, proper identification can get you the correct treatment.

Snake Identification Characteristics

There are several standard snake identification characteristics that are used to help determine a snake’s identity. These include:

• Length

• Color

• Pattern

• Body shape

• Head

• Neck shape

• Eye pupil shape

• Scale texture

• Tail scales

• Anal plate division

None of these on its own can tell you what kind of snake you are looking at, but if you combine the characteristics together, you will have all the information you need for snake identification.

Another important thing to consider is your location and what snakes make that particular region home. That should help you eliminate many choices right from the start.


Length is probably the first thing you notice about a snake, especially if the snake is not a small one. Because snakes curve their bodies when they move, sometimes it is hard to tell a snake’s length. If this is the case, try and measure the snake in relation to the length of an object on the ground.

Snakes fall into three length categories. These are:

• Large - three feet and over

• Medium - a foot and a half to three feet

• Small - six inches to a foot and a half

Some of the snakes in the small and medium categories can also be ones that are not fully grown.


Another tool of snake identification is determining the color. Remember to look at the head, back, sides, stomach and tail. Many times one snake has many different colors.

Another part of this element of snake identification is the pattern the colors take. This includes such things as the color of the head, spots, bands, linear multicolor, which means changing color by blending from head to tail, and striped. If possible, try to recognize these same patterns on the snake’s stomach.

Also, a snake can simply be a solid color with no pattern at all.

Body Shape

Just like all creatures, snakes have a certain body shape. These fall into three categories:

• Slender

• Typical

• Stout

Snakes are usually the same size from head to tail, so it is easy to determine which one of these three categories applies. If a snake has just eaten, there may be a big bulge or lump in one part of the body, but the rest of the snake will be normal sized. You could be thrown off if a snake is pregnant, because her normally slender shape might be stout.

Head And Neck Shape

Head and neck shape differs from snake to snake. Here the characteristics to look for:

• No neck - the same diameter from end to end

• Medium head - the head is a bit larger than the body

• Broad headed - there is a small neck and a much larger head

The last four means of snake identification are a little harder to determine. Eye pupil shape can help you identify pit vipers from other snakes. Pit Vipers have elliptical eye pupils that look much like the eye of a cat. Other snakes have round pupils, just like the human eye.

Scale texture means the shape of the scales on the snake’s body. Smooth scales are flat or a little rounded and they appear to be very shiny. Keeled scales have what looks like a pinched ridge in the center. Keeled scales will make the surface of the snake to appear rough and there is no shine.

In-between these two are weakly keeled scales. These can look smooth or rough with only a slightly pinched ridge on the scales.

Undertail scaling is another method to identify venomous snakes from non-venomous snakes. The venomous Pit Vipers have a single row of scales under their tail which changes to a double row as it nears the end of the tail. Non-venomous snakes have double rows of scales the entire length of the tail. An exception to this is the venomous Coral Snake.

The anal plate, the scale that covers the anal vent, cannot help you determine if a snake is poisonous or not. These scales may also be single or double.




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